Palm trees create drama and impact when grown as indoor container plants. Because most palms are native to humid, tropical conditions, these elegant plants may become more susceptible to certain diseases and pests when grown indoors in dry environments. You can help your indoor palm plant look its best by watching your plant for problems and treating them as soon as they develop.
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When palm trees are grown indoors, they may develop brown leaf tips and brown leaf margins as a result of low humidity levels. This is especially true in winter, when air humidity levels naturally drop. Use a humidifier to provide indoor palms with moisture, or spray the fronds periodically with a water mister. Too much fertiliser can also cause brown leaf tips and brown spots on the palm fronds. Fertilise indoor palm plants only during the growing season, from late winter to early autumn. Use diluted liquid palm tree fertiliser or slow-release palm tree fertiliser, following the manufacturer's directions for indoor palm plants.
An indoor palm plant that is turning brown throughout the plant may not be getting enough water. Water indoor palm plants when the top layer of soil has become dry, saturating the soil enough so that excess water drains from the container. Although palm plants require plenty of water, they also require good drainage. Use well-draining, porous potting soil in a container with drain holes and a water collection saucer.
Mites, scale and mealybugs can infest indoor palm plants. Mites may be visible as small red spots on the underside of palm fronds. Mites also produce webbing that is visible on the palm fronds and along leaf junctures. Mites do not like water, so small infestations can be controlled by wiping the plant with a damp cloth or rinsing the plant in the shower. Serious mite infestations may require the use of an insecticide. Scale and mealybugs are small insects that suck the sap from palm plants. These insects can cause the palm to yellow and die. Scale insects look like small, dark spots on the palm, while mealybugs appear as small, white spots. The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests using an insecticide to control both of these insects.
Soggy soil and poor drainage can result in root rot, a fungal condition of the palm's roots. Prevent root rot by watering the palm only when the top of the soil is dry and removing excess water that collects in the saucer. Root rot is visible as a slimy black coating on the palm's roots, or roots that have blackened and detached from the plant. If left untreated, palm plants affected with root rot will die. To treat root rot, allow the soil to dry completely before applying a root rot fungicide.
Palm plants need plenty of light to maintain health and good growth. Ideally, an indoor palm plant should be placed near a window where it can receive bright, natural light throughout the day. Palm plants grow spindly and are more susceptible to diseases if they are kept in lowlight areas.
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- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Indoor Palms
- University of Minnesota Extension Service: Growing Palms Indoors
- Botanical Journeys Plant Guides: Caring for Indoor Palm Plants
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Scale Insects -- Indoors
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Mealybug -- Indoors
- Aggie Horticulture Texas A & M University: Caring for Plants in the Home